Why Miracles Alone Do Not Build Faith
SEEING is believing. That is the view of many. Some say that they would believe in God if he were to reveal himself in some miraculous way. Perhaps that is so, but would such belief lead to genuine faith?
Consider the Israelites Korah, Dathan, and Abiram. The Bible shows that they were eyewitnesses of these awe-inspiring miracles from God: the ten plagues upon Egypt, the escape of the nation of Israel through the Red Sea, and the annihilation of the Egyptian Pharaoh and his military force. (Exodus 7:19–11:10; 12:29-32; Psalm 136:15) Korah, Dathan, and Abiram also heard Jehovah speak from heaven at Mount Sinai. (Deuteronomy 4:11, 12) Yet, not long after these miracles occurred, the three men instigated a rebellion against Jehovah and his appointed servants.—Numbers 16:1-35; Psalm 106:16-18.
About 40 years later, a prophet named Balaam also witnessed a miracle. Even angelic intervention did not deter him from siding with God’s enemies, the Moabites. That miracle notwithstanding, Balaam went ahead and took a stand against Jehovah God and His people. (Numbers 22:1-35; 2 Peter 2:15, 16) Balaam’s lack of faith, however, pales alongside that of Judas Iscariot. Despite having been a close companion of Jesus and an eyewitness to an extraordinary array of miracles, Judas betrayed Christ for thirty silver pieces.—Matthew 26:14-16, 47-50; 27:3-5.
The Jewish religious leaders were also aware of Jesus’ many miracles. After he resurrected Lazarus, they even admitted: “This man performs many signs.” But did the sight of the now-living Lazarus soften their hearts and give them faith? No, indeed. Instead, they schemed to kill both Jesus and Lazarus!—John 11:47-53; 12:10.
Even direct intervention by God failed to produce faith in those wicked men. While Jesus was in the temple precincts on one occasion, he prayed aloud: “Father, glorify your name.” Jehovah replied in a voice out of heaven: “I both glorified it and will glorify it again.” Yet, this miraculous event did not produce faith in the hearts of those present. Says the Bible: “Although he had performed so many signs before them, they were not putting faith in him.”—John 12:28-30, 37; compare Ephesians 3:17.
Why Miracles Did Not Build Faith
How can such lack of faith exist in the face of miracles? Rejection of Jesus by Jewish religious leaders seems especially puzzling when you consider that at the very time that he began his ministry, the Jews as a whole were “in expectation” of “the Christ,” or the Messiah. (Luke 3:15) However, the problem lay in what those expectations were. Lexicographer W. E. Vine quotes a well-known Bible scholar as saying that the Jews were obsessed with the idea of a Messiah who would give them “temporal triumph” and “material greatness.” Hence, they were not prepared for the humble, nonpolitical Jesus of Nazareth, who appeared in their midst as the true Messiah in 29 C.E. The religious leaders also feared that Jesus’ teachings would upset the existing state of affairs and jeopardize their prominent positions. (John 11:48) Their preconceived ideas and selfishness blinded them to the meaning of Jesus’ miracles.
Jewish religious leaders and others later rejected the miraculous proof that Jesus’ followers enjoyed divine favor. For example, when his apostles healed a man lame from birth, irate members of the Jewish high court asked: “What shall we do with these men? Because, for a fact, a noteworthy sign has occurred through them, one manifest to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem; and we cannot deny it. Nevertheless, in order that it may not be spread abroad further among the people, let us tell them with threats not to speak anymore upon the basis of this name to any man at all.” (Acts 3:1-8; 4:13-17) Clearly, this wonderful miracle had not built or produced faith in the hearts of those men.
Ambition, pride, and greed are factors that have moved many to shut the doors of their hearts. This appears to have been the case with Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, mentioned at the outset. Jealousy, fear, and a host of other hurtful attitudes have hindered others. We are reminded, too, of the disobedient angels, the demons, who once had the privilege of looking upon the very face of God. (Matthew 18:10) They do not doubt the existence of God. Indeed, “the demons believe and shudder.” (James 2:19) Yet, they have no faith in God.
The Meaning of True Faith
Faith is more than mere belief. It is also more than a momentary emotional reaction to some miracle. Says Hebrews 11:1: “Faith is the assured expectation of things hoped for, the evident demonstration of realities though not beheld.” An individual having faith is convinced in his heart that everything Jehovah God promises is as good as fulfilled. Moreover, the undeniable proof of unseen realities is so powerful that faith itself is said to be equivalent to that evidence. Yes, faith is based on evidence. And in times past, miracles played a role in the development of faith or the building of it. The signs performed by Jesus served to convince others that he was the promised Messiah. (Matthew 8:16, 17; Hebrews 2:2-4) Similarly, such gifts of God’s holy spirit, or active force, as miraculous healing and speaking in tongues proved that the Jews no longer had Jehovah’s favor but that his approval now rested on the Christian congregation, established by his Son, Jesus Christ.—1 Corinthians 12:7-11.
Among the miraculous gifts of the spirit was the ability to prophesy. When unbelievers observed this miracle, some were moved to worship Jehovah, declaring: “God is really among you.” (1 Corinthians 14:22-25) However, Jehovah God did not intend that miracles be a permanent feature of Christian worship. Accordingly, the apostle Paul wrote: “Whether there are gifts of prophesying, they will be done away with; whether there are tongues, they will cease.” (1 Corinthians 13:8) These gifts evidently ceased with the death of the apostles and those who had received such gifts by means of them.
Would people then be left without a basis for faith? No, for Paul said: “[God] did not leave himself without witness in that he did good, giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, filling your hearts to the full with food and good cheer.” (Acts 14:17) Indeed, to honesthearted ones who are willing to open their minds and hearts to the evidence that surrounds us, Jehovah God’s “invisible qualities are clearly seen from the world’s creation onward, because they are perceived by the things made, even his eternal power and Godship, so that they [those who deny God] are inexcusable.”—Romans 1:20.
More than belief in God’s existence is needed. Paul urged: “Quit being fashioned after this system of things, but be transformed by making your mind over, that you may prove to yourselves the good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” (Romans 12:2) This can be done by diligently studying the Scriptures with the aid of Christian publications, such as this magazine. Faith based on accurate knowledge of God’s Word, the Bible, is not weak or shallow. Those who have discerned God’s will and are doing it in faith are rendering sacred service to God.—Romans 12:1.
Believing Though Not Seeing
The apostle Thomas had difficulty exercising faith in Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. “Unless I see in his hands the print of the nails and stick my finger into the print of the nails and stick my hand into his side, I will certainly not believe,” Thomas declared. When Jesus later materialized a body that displayed the wounds of his impalement, Thomas responded favorably to this miracle. However, Jesus said: “Happy are those who do not see and yet believe.”—John 20:25-29.
Today, millions of Jehovah’s Witnesses are “walking by faith, not by sight.” (2 Corinthians 5:7) Although they did not see the miracles recorded in the Bible, they firmly believe that these occurred. The Witnesses exercise faith in God and his Word. With the help of his spirit, they are able to understand the Bible’s teachings and its predominant theme—the vindication of Jehovah God’s sovereignty by means of his heavenly Kingdom. (Matthew 6:9, 10; 2 Timothy 3:16, 17) With great benefit to themselves, these genuine Christians apply the Bible’s wise counsel in life. (Psalm 119:105; Isaiah 48:17, 18) They accept the irrefutable proof that Bible prophecies mark our time as “the last days,” and they have faith that God’s promised new world is near at hand. (2 Timothy 3:1-5; Matthew 24:3-14; 2 Peter 3:13) For them it is a joy to share the knowledge of God with others. (Proverbs 2:1-5) They know that it is only through a study of the Scriptures that those seeking God can truly find him.—Acts 17:26, 27.
Do you recall Albert, who was mentioned in the previous article? A few days after his prayer for a miracle had gone unanswered, he was visited by one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, an elderly woman who left some Bible-based literature with him. Albert thereafter accepted a free home Bible study. As he became better acquainted with the Bible’s message, his disappointment turned to excitement. He began to realize that he had found God after all.
The Scriptures urge: “Search for Jehovah, you people, while he may be found. Call to him while he proves to be near.” (Isaiah 55:6) You can do this, not by awaiting a modern-day miracle from God, but by gaining accurate knowledge of his Word. This is a necessity, for miracles alone do not build faith.
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Even the miraculous resurrection of Lazarus did not move Jesus’ enemies to exercise faith
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Faith must be based on accurate knowledge of the Bible